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Originally published Friday, September 4, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Raphael Saadiq finds a new groove of his own in '60s soul

Raphael Saadiq, appearing at Bumbershoot on Sunday, is a multitalented and eclectic pop artist, who is going back to the Motown sound and resurrecting it in his own way.

Seattle Times arts critic

Some musicians find their groove early, perfect it and stick to it. Raphael Saadiq is another kind of pop artist: a multitalented and eclectic one, who absorbs many influences and likes to fuse and explore them in his own way.

Saadiq's latest move is exemplified by his aptly titled song, "100 Yard Dash," from his Grammy-nominated 2008 album, "The Way I See It." The catchy tune, mated with Saadiq's high, sweet voice and a slick soul arrangement, evokes happy memories of '60s Motown stars like Marvin Gaye and The Temptations in their prime.

And when Saadiq (who appears at Bumbershoot at 9:30 p.m. Sunday) sings it live, he's attired in horn-rimmed specs, a sharp suit and a skinny tie, like so many great soulmen of yore.

The Oakland, Calif.-bred Saadiq, now 43, grew up on this music, he says. But he embraced other pop genres before getting back to it.

In the late '80s and early 1990s he was a key member of the snazzy "new jack swing" R&B band, Tony! Toni! Toné!. He went on to become an A-list producer-songwriter for such neo-soul stars as D'Angelo, Macy Gray and John Legend, and for Joss Stone (with whom he's been linked romantically).

But his recent incarnation as a charismatic, old-school soul singer with a funkified band, sizzling backup singers and sharp dance moves has put him in the spotlight again, and deservedly won him many new fans. (His act has been captured in the concert DVD, "Raphael Saadiq: Live from the Artists Den," sold online at www.publicTelevisionRocks.org).

Saadiq's transformation (which he notes was fueled by studying vintage videos of Al Green, The Four Tops, et al) is timely.

"The Way I See It" arrived just as other Brit and American singers were also resurrecting the Motown/Stax groove, which had been largely sidelined by the rap/hip-hop surge.

But like others in this camp (i.e., Sharon Jones, Ryan Shaw, Duffy), Saadiq shrugs off the "retro" label as too restrictive.

"This music is just a lot of fun," he says, by cellphone from his tour bus. "It feels good to hear it. And it feels good to sing it."

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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